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Pat Robertson and teconic plates

by
March 2009, no. 309

Superstition: Belief in The Age of Science by Robert L. Park

Princeton University Press (Footprint Books), $51.95 hb, 215 pp, 9780691133553

Pat Robertson and teconic plates

by
March 2009, no. 309

Robert L. Park is an American professor of physics who has taken up the sword against superstition and wobbly science. In an earlier book, Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud (2000), he assailed pseudoscientific delinquents and pretenders, and some of its themes reappear in Superstition. But the majority of the new book’s bogeys are generally acknowledged to be remote from science: religion, creationism or intelligent design, vitalism and the soul, reincarnation, the power of prayer, divine agency in cataclysms, New Age mysticism, homeopathy, and a host of related things. A few of the targets, such as acupuncture, space colonisation and the ‘quantum mysticism’ conjured from alleged mind-involvement in quantum phenomena, may be thought by some to border on (good) science, but not by Park.

It is possible to sympathise with Park’s anxiety to stem the tide of the destructive religiosity, superstition, and prideful ignorance that menace our age, yet deplore this book. Superstition is a genial, entertaining and (to me) often congenial work, but its unreflective scientism, many slapdash passages, and superficial sketches and arguments do not recommend it as an exemplary contribution to achieving its ends.

Park likes to yarn, and his book combines argument with a great deal of easy anecdote: about eminent scientists, religious charlatans, the intelligent design wars, the politics of anti-science, dodgy research foundations and so on. Mingled with the anecdotes is more incisive work. Its implicit strategy is twofold. Park thinks that superstitions involve nutty explanations of phenomena that are in competition with science. So the first thing is to discredit them, one way or another; the second is to demonstrate the superiority of scientific explanations.

Tamas Pataki reviews ‘Superstition: Belief in The Age of Science’  by Robert L. Park

Superstition: Belief in The Age of Science

by Robert L. Park

Princeton University Press (Footprint Books), $51.95 hb, 215 pp, 9780691133553

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